"Vanilla" has become a dirty word. It's now synonymous with bland and uninspired, but the ancient Totonac people believed the vanilla plant sprang from the spilled blood of a beautiful princess, and its sacred scent came from her pure, sweet soul. Most things purporting to be vanilla these days are actually synthesized from petrochemicals, not princess blood. But what captures the essence of a long, lazy summer day better than a simple scoop of vanilla ice cream—even if that vanilla is created via electrophilic aromatic substitution?
On a balmy, 80-degree day, seven WW staffers held a blind tasting of seven localish grocery-store vanilla ice creams to find the cream of the dairy freezer. After some serious journalistic investigation, Tillamook was the consensus favorite, with several tasters going back for seconds. Umpqua, Alden's and Lochmead were picked as runners-up. The worst was Living Harvest, by a country mile, though if we're only looking at dairy-based ice creams, it was Julie's Organic.
Made in: Vancouver, Wash.
There wasn't a lot of vanilla to be found in this ice cream, with several tasters identifying the most prominent flavor as "salt." "It just tastes like Dairy Queen soft serve to me," noted one taster. Others countered that DQ's ice cream actually has more flavor.
Made from hemp milk, this was never going to measure up against its dairy-based counterparts. But even by the standards of vegan ice cream, this was particularly bad, with several tasters noting it both looked and tasted like mashed potatoes. Though as one taster pointed out: "Salt & Straw could sell this as a mashed-potato flavor—just drizzle it with pig's blood."
Though a far superior vegan ice cream to the Living Harvest, the coconut flavor was far too strong for this product to live up to the "vanilla" promised on the label. Still, as a coconut ice cream, it was plenty creamy and actually fattier than your average dairy ice cream. "I'd drizzle some rum on it," said one taster.
As one taster put it: "When people say they want vanilla ice cream, this is what they want." Though not the highest quality of the bunch, all agreed this was a perfect all-purpose, no-fuss vanilla ice cream, with a brilliant white color and velvety texture that were artificial in the best kind of way.
Soft and aerated with a strong vanilla flavor, tasters agreed this was the most "adult" of all the ice creams. "If I was a shitty host, and I was serving dinner-party guests nothing but vanilla ice cream, I would be happiest serving them this one," said one taster.
This was the thickest of the products we tried, with a long, developing finish. One taster noted its denseness made it ideal for sundaes, where the softer ice creams might collapse under syrup and toppings. "I would eat this all by itself," said another taster.
Made in: Junction City
This ice cream brings new meaning to the term "farm fresh." "It's like sucking on the teat of a cow, but ice cream comes out," said one taster. While definitely the least artificial in taste and texture, the flavor was, as one taster put it, "pastoral." This is probably what ice cream tasted like when it was made with milk straight from naturally raised cows, but for some on our Breyers-raised tasting panel it was a little too "farmy."
SCOOPS' OUT FOR SUMMER
Tillamook may be the best you can get from New Seasons, but for a city that's only warm three months of the year, Portland has an almost absurd number of places making ice cream, gelato, sorbet and other frozen confections. Since July 1, we've been celebrating the huge ball of fire in the sky by eating at one of these places every day. Yes, that's 31 scoops in 31 days. We will get fat and sick by August. Join us at wweek.com/scoopsout.